business matters

Worker shortage a growing issue for construction industry

:For a dozen years Jeff Csurilla has been owner of Penn Contracting Services in Cranberry Township.

Employing between 12 and 20 people, the company does interior commercial build-outs for clients within a 300-mile radius.

Clients have included O'Reilly Auto Parts, Planet Fitness, Burlington Coat Factory and Big Lots.

Question:How did you personally get into the construction industry?

A: I'm a hands-on type of person.

I started at age 16 working for a welding and fabrication company.

I did not get a college degree, but the construction industry provided me an opportunity to make a good wage. Initially, I worked for a different company but with my experience I chose to go out on my own.

Question:How many projects do you do a year?

A: Between 45 and 50, but some projects are a month long while others take three or four months.

Question:Prior to doing interior build-outs, your company worked on bridge construction projects. Why did you make the switch?

A: In construction, you take a set of drawings and make it happen. That's the same whether it's interiors or bridges.

But the time we could spend building bridges was limited by the weather. You can't pour concrete in the winter, for example, and rain can affect a lot of things.

We changed our business model and started doing indoor projects to get out of the weather and work 12 months a year.

Question:What is the biggest challenge facing your industry?

A: Getting the youth — or anyone — who wants to work manual labor.

It's an enormous challenge, and it's driving the cost of construction up.

It used to be material was a third a cost of a construction job, labor was a third and administration, overhead and profit was a third.

Now labor is a much greater factor. The ratio of costs didn't grow together. Manpower drives the industry.

We have exhausted every means known to man to get people. We've tried Monster, Indeed, Craigslist … I might get 10 applications, then only maybe one person will show up for the interview.

It's everywhere. People are looking for carpenters, drywallers or finishers. It's not just us.

Question:How do you see the future of the construction industry?

I'd like to see this industry stay strong.

The economy is good right now, and people are opening new businesses. That means there's a lot of construction, but not a lot of construction people available to do the work.

This industry could be in trouble in two or three years if we don't find a way to reverse the (worker shortage) trend. The older guys are retiring, and we aren't replacing them.

It's seldom to see young men on job sites anymore.

Today, people coming into the industry have gotten not as skilled or fast as they used to be. It's a shame.

Nobody grows up saying, 'I want to be a carpenter,' anymore. They want to run a computer or be an Uber driver.

Question:What steps are you taking to manage the labor shortage?

A: Just today, we joined the Master Interiors Contractors Association of Greater Pittsburgh to help locate drywall finishers.

Drywall is an art, and finding good people is important.

Question:What qualities are you looking for in an employee?

A:We can take anybody and teach them. We just need people who are willing to learn … to put the cell phone down and put in a good days' work.

If our youth doesn't get involved in this industry, we will lose a lot of jobs to companies that rely on (bad practices) like hiring illegal aliens or failing to get proper insurances.

People still look for a good price, and they may opt for companies who don't pay for things like employee benefits. That can price us right out of the game.

Question:What is the best part of your job?

A:When the project is completed and you see what you have built from a drawing … a piece of paper.

When I drive through Pittsburgh or Butler, I can say, “I built that.”

You also get to meet a lot of interesting people and see how different businesses are run.

It's rewarding to see a smile on your customer's face and shake his hand.

And it's also nice to see my employees buying new cars, homes, camps. I love seeing my people have success.